Maternity leave and working mum questions answered
Q: My job involves quite a bit of heavy lifting and a lot of driving. I’m concerned that this won’t be safe for me now I’m pregnant. What can I do?
A: Employers are legally obliged to carry out a health and safety risk assessment for all pregnant employees, and to ensure that they’re not exposed to unsafe working conditions. If the assessment shows that aspects of your job aren’t safe for you, then they must either eliminate the hazardous bits, offer you reasonable alternative work at the same salary, or suspend you from work on full pay. Heavy lifting and unnecessary travel can definitely fall foul of a risk assessment so don’t be fobbed off. You should also have a suitable place where you can rest, and later, if you need it, breastfeed. You can also ask for a risk assessment if you’re back at work within six months of giving birth, or if you are breastfeeding.
Q: I will be going on maternity leave soon but my immediate boss has told me I can’t keep my company car and mobile phone as I won’t need them while I’m ‘on holiday’. Surely that’s not right?
A: First, grrrr at your idiot boss. Anyone who thinks that looking after a new baby is a holiday is in need of a reality check. And your boss is also wrong about the other points. During your 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave you’re entitled to all the perks you normally have at work – including your car, phone, laptop and holidays. However, if you choose to take a further period of maternity leave, your employer could choose to remove them until you return to work, though many don’t. If there’s any more talk of returning your car and phone, go to see your HR department, and point out that legally your boss is talking nonsense.
Q: Recently I started a fantastic job. It was only temporary maternity leave cover, but I was getting on really well and they were talking about my staying on permanently. But now I’m pregnant, and I’m being told that they’ll need to get someone else in. Is this fair?
A: Not only is it not fair, it’s illegal. No woman can be legally sacked for getting pregnant, even if her job is temporary. See your HR department, and if that doesn’t get you anywhere, try your union or professional body. Be polite but assertive, and make it clear that you know it’s illegal to fire you.
Q: I’ve been very happy working three days a week while my two children were in nursery from 8.30am to 6pm. But in September my older daughter is going to school and I’m panicking about how I’m going to cope with the shorter hours. I’m taking leave to settle her in, but long term I can’t possibly get there to pick her up at 3.30. Help!
A: It’s rarely acknowledged that it doesn’t get easier to work when your children go to school. In fact, it often gets harder. But you do have options. One is to advertise locally for after-school care. Sometimes a mother’s help will pick up your child from school, give her tea and supervise homework until you can get home. Another option is to find a registered childminder who offers afternoon care. Or you might even consider hiring a nanny or joining a nannyshare. Then your younger child can be taken care of at home, and there’ll be someone there for your older child too. A friend of mine has arranged a slightly more unusual option – she’s asked to do her three-day-a-week job over five days, as the shorter hours mean she can do school pick-ups. Hope that helps. Good luck!